Your Short Film is Due September 1st, Thanks

July 28, 2010

When a friend invited me to a theater screening of the 2002 Oscar-nominated short films, I dug deep and scraped together some faint enthusiasm.

Well, my skepticism got schooled, as the experience transformed my ill-informed opinion on short films and I still think about some of those films today:

A little boy watches his only friend in the world -- a stray dog -- turned against him by a white farmer... A woman on the subway takes a gamble on humanity and loses in a quiet humiliating way...

I have since dragged other friends to watch short film screenings, as one good turn deserves another.

So I was delighted that the “Interpretations: One Script, Endless Possibilities” panel at the AAIFF film festival earlier this month spotlighted the often underappreciated film short.

Inspired by “long, drunken discussions over dinner” (“This is how a lot of business gets done, quipped moderator Jennifer 8. Lee), Interpretations is a short film initiative founded by director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) and the You Offend Me You Offend My Family crew.

Aspiring filmmakers submit 3-minute (or less) film shorts containing four pre-chosen lines of dialogue. The jury then selects five finalists to receive $3000 and a free subscription to WGA’s Written By magazine, along with possible mentorship by some of the senior filmmakers involved.

The accomplished jury panel includes screenwriters Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man), playwright David Henry Hwang, producer Dan Lin (The Departed), director Joe Russo (Arrested Development), and many more. Their goal is not to pick one “best” film, but to highlight a diverse number of filmmakers with unique and original voices.

Moderated by Jennifer 8. Lee (author, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles), the AAIFF panel featured Elaine Chin (producer, YOMYOMF blogger), Evan Jackson Leong (filmmaker, 1040) and Ken Leung (actor, Lost). Fun trivia: Evan abandoned pre-med for film after taking an Asian American studies course (applause from the audience).

Elaine commented on the new phenomenon of a fellow producer receiving nonstop short film referrals from his assistants. Gone are the days of short films and home videos only viewable in remote indie cinemas and, well, at home, thanks to technology and the internet. (Reference was made to the Panic Attack! short, a YouTube sensation made for $300, resulting in a $30 million deal for the Uruguayan filmmaker from Spiderman’s Sam Raimi.)

Hence, initiatives such as Interpretations surf the cutting edge of these exciting times, where film degrees, big budgets and expensive equipment are not required (although none of those hurt) to get noticed, and short films and videos can provide the golden ticket to opportunity.

So spread the word to aspiring filmmaking friends and artists. They'll get the chance to join the great collective of people behind this project. Ken Leung answered an audience member's "advice for an actor" question as if he had never heard that question before (his wise response to the guy's concern on casting agents "seeing you a certain way": “Don’t worry about it. If they say they see you a certain way ... they may not actually see you that way. You may never know how they really see you.”). Evan himself was mentored by Justin Lin, who put him to work on several projects. Elaine always wanted to influence films from the inside (with the implication of growing Asian American presence), no matter how difficult the process.

So back to the contest: Under three minutes, four lines of predetermined dialogue, deadline is September 1st -- more than a month away. Get set, go!


Check out the lovely film shorts that Interpretations commissioned from colleagues as examples. One personal favorite is "Represent" (pictured above) by Iris Yamashita (Letters from Iwo Jima). Many great short films contain some sort of "twist" ... and you will like this one.

For fun, also check out Kunio Kato's "La Maison en Petits Cubes," last year's Oscar Award winner for best animated short (the native Japanese speaker brought down the house by randomly ending his acceptance speech with "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto."). If you cried during Pixar's Up...

And why stop now -- also watch Jennifer 8. Lee's "Fortune Cookies not found in China?" video from the Disposable Film Festival (film shorts made with non-professional devices such as cellphones) on people in China reacting to the fortune cookie (re: not from China). Priceless.